Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Online dating

When you are old enough, connecting with people online can be a positive and fun experience. But online dating can be seriously risky.

Dating apps and sites are generally for people who are 18 and over because of the safety issues. Some people use online dating to connect with people so they can scam them, stalk them or trick them into sex.

Online dating apps and sites are sometimes highly sexualised spaces where adults are looking to get into sexually explicit chat or to hook up. Being young and new to online dating can lead to you being pressured into sending nudes, or joining in sexual activity before you are ready. As well as making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, this can be illegal. 

  • Lying about your age can put you at real risk, so stay truthful. It can also get the adult you are talking to into trouble. 
  • Remember, it is always OK to say no if someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, or if you don’t trust what they are telling you.

If you are old enough for online dating, it’s still important to take steps to protect yourself from danger and to look out for suspicious behaviour. 

Privacy settings and personal information 

Check the privacy settings on all your accounts (not just the ones you use for dating) and limit who can see information and contact you. Don’t include personal details like your full name, address and phone number in your profile. 

It’s OK to share your favourite music, movie or team, but don’t give out personal information like where you live, study, play sport, work or go to relax — at least until you someone very well. Even then, you should be super careful. Make sure you have really sussed them out first — and watch out for the sneaky catfishes (tips on that next).

Watch out!

These are some of the big online dating risks — click on the links to find more information.

Catfishing is when someone sets up a fake profile or pretends to be someone you know (or even a celebrity) so they can trick you into a fake relationship. They may catfish you because they think it’s funny or because they want to be mean and make you feel bad about yourself. They may encourage you to tell them your secrets so they can embarrass you by sharing them with others. They could even try to get you to share your personal details so they can scam you or steal your identity.

‘Image-based abuse’ is when someone shares (or threatens to share) a nude photo or video of you online, which is illegal if you are under 18. It is also illegal when you are 18+ if you have not given your permission for the intimate content to be shared. They may do it to be mean, to boast, or to blackmail you into sending them money or more intimate images. 

‘Grooming’ is when someone builds a secret online friendship with a young person to trick or persuade them into getting sexual. Often they pretend to be someone the same age, but they are much older. Or they pretend to be a girl when they are really a guy (or the other way around). At first they may seem very nice, but it’s just to make you think you can trust them. They may talk about your appearance and body and very personal topics. They could start sending pictures or videos they say are ‘sexy’. Then they ask you to send nude photos or get intimate over a webcam. They may record and share this content with other abusers who stalk children and young people (these people are known as ‘paedophiles’). It can be very scary and make you feel upset and unsafe for a long time, especially if the photos or videos show up online.

Signs that an online connection may be 'fishy' or fake

  • They don’t seem to use their social media accounts much.
  • The way they chat or act does not seem to match their profile. 
  • They seem to know a lot about you and be interested in all the same things.
  • They want you to send photos or live videos of yourself but always have excuses for their own webcam not working, so you can’t check what they really look like.

TIP: If things don’t seem right, use a Google reverse image search to check that their profile image is not somewhere else online under a different name.

Check more signs to look for and tips for protecting yourself from unsafe or unwanted contact

You might also like to read extra tips for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and/or intersex young people.

Are you being recorded?

  • If you do connect with someone online, remember you can never be sure that your conversations or videos aren’t being recorded.
  • It is not OK to record, screenshot or share content without the consent of the person being shown. 

TIP: Check out the SBS television drama The Hunting if you want to find out more about online sexual intimacy, sharing nudes and consent (including some of the big risks).

Making connections in person

It is best to talk to a parent or another trusted adult if you are planning to meet up with someone in person who you have connected with online.

If you decide to go ahead, follow these tips to improve your personal safety:

  • Always meet and stay in a busy public place.
  • Tell someone else the name of the person you are meeting, where you are going and when you will be back — and stay in touch so they know you are OK.
  • Take your (fully charged) mobile phone with you.
  • Stay sober and look out for anything suspicious.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

What to do if things get weird

There’s a lot of help available — click on the links to find more information.

  • If you run into trouble or something makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it’s really important you tell an adult you trust. You can also reach out to a support service.
  • If someone online is making you feel uncomfortable, use your app, social media or game settings to report or block them — The eSafety Guide has info about how to do this.
  • If someone is pressuring you to send nudes don’t give in to them. Ask them to stop. If they keep pressuring you, report and block them. 
  • If someone shares (or threatens to share) an intimate, nude or sexual photo or video of you, you can make an image-based abuse report to eSafety. Find out more about image-based abuse.
  • Phone and online counselling services have people who are specially trained to give you personal support:
    • Kids Helpline — counselling and online support for kids and teenagers.
    • eheadspace — online chat and support for young people (12 to 25).
    • 1800RESPECT — counselling and support for sexual abuse and domestic and family violence.